Georgetown Animal Shelter contains distemper virus, returns to normal operations

The Georgetown Animal Shelter, 110 Walden Drive, has resumed normal operations after limiting positive distemper cases to a single canine. Test results for the other 26 dogs currently in the Shelter’s care came back negative Monday, Aug. 28. The original canine who tested positive for distemper remains in isolation and continues to show signs of improvement. Shelter staff remain optimistic the dog will make a full recovery.

“Limiting the spread of such a contagious virus to the original dog who tested positive is an incredible testament to our shelter staff, who immediately put safety and cleaning protocols in place, and to our community, who immediately responded to our plea for fosters,” Animal Services Manager April Haughey said.

Within four days of the call for fosters, seven of the 15 healthy dogs were fostered or adopted out of the shelter. Residents who are fostering dogs are being asked to keep them for up to two weeks, to give staff time to catch up on surgeries and other tasks.

The shelter is resuming normal operations. People interested in adopting or fostering can view adoptable pets here. While walk-ins are welcome during operating hours, residents are encouraged to schedule an appointment ahead of time by calling 512-930-3592 or emailing

The most important action the community can take to mitigating the spread of distemper is to fully vaccinate dogs. Dog owners are encouraged to reach out to their veterinarians to confirm vaccination status. The shelter is expanding its vaccine protocols to provide distemper boosters puppies every two weeks until six months of age. The shelter will continue to administer the distemper vaccine upon intake and a booster at two weeks for all new adult intakes.

Frequently Asked Questions

Original news release from Aug. 23, 2023

The Georgetown Animal Shelter has seen an increase in canines entering the shelter with the distemper virus. Our shelter needs the community’s help to move healthy dogs out of the shelter and into foster or adoptive homes to separate them from and create isolation space for sick dogs.

The shelter has one confirmed case of distemper and six presumptive cases. The initial canine came to the shelter July 31 and started showing symptoms Aug. 17. The dog went to the vet Aug. 18, and tested positive for the virus Aug. 22. The dog was not found in Georgetown, and the specific details of how it might have contracted the virus are unknown. The shelter will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates at

Additional disease control measures have been put in place to mitigate the risk of the virus spreading; however, because the shelter consistently operates above capacity, creating additional space for isolation has become increasingly difficult.

“We desperately need the community’s help to foster or adopt our current, healthy dogs, so we can limit the spread of this devastating disease,” Animal Services Manager April Haughey said. “We are taking every step we can to clean and sanitize the shelter and isolate potentially infected dogs, but with how this virus spreads and with the shelter being over capacity, we don’t have other options.”

To create space, the shelter needs 15 healthy dogs to move into foster or adoptive homes as soon as possible. See a list of available pets here. Emergency fosters for healthy dogs should be limited to homes that either have no dogs or homes where all dogs in the household are fully vaccinated. Interested fosters should call or email the shelter to make an appointment: 512-930-3592 or

In addition to fostering and/or adopting dogs currently at the shelter, the public can help by:

  1. Limiting casual visits. The shelter has also suspended meet and greets until further notice.
  2. Holding strays: You can also take strays to the nearest fire station to scan for a microchip.
  3. Making sure all pets are fully vaccinated. Adult dogs require vaccinations for distemper every three years.

Visiting the shelter is safe and poses minimal to no risk to owned vaccinated dogs at home. Recent adopters should be aware of the symptoms of distemper, including lack of interest in food, extreme lethargy, severe nasal discharge, severe coughing, muscle tremors or seizures, changes in skin condition or inability to walk straight. Visit your veterinarian immediately if any of these symptoms are observed.

What the Georgetown Animal Shelter is doing

The shelter currently is not taking in owner-surrendered dogs. Intake is currently limited to emergencies only and only as kennels remain available.

The shelter also has:

  • Boosted all dogs who received a distemper vaccine more than two weeks ago. The distemper vaccine protocol for adult dogs calls for one vaccine every three years. Puppies get three boosters, three weeks apart. Because dogs who come to the shelter are from unknown origins with unverified vaccination histories, and shelters are considered high-risk environments, the shelter administers a booster at two weeks for all new adult intakes and boosters every two weeks until puppies are adopted or reach six months of age.
  • Deep-cleaned all dog kennels, water bowls, food bowls
  • Removed pools, toys, and water bowls from play yards.
  • Isolated all dogs exhibiting symptoms in an isolation ward behind a badge-entry door that remains closed at all times. Additional signage indicates the area is accessible to staff only. Only health technicians are allowed to interact with dogs in the isolation ward and must wear full personal protective gear, including shoe covers, gloves, and gowns. All dogs in the isolation ward are not being walked and cannot leave their kennels.
  • Cancelled surgeries to avoid weakening any animals’ immune systems.
  • Contacted the family who adopted a kennel mate of the confirmed positive case.
  • Communicated the changes to volunteer dog walkers.
  • Contacted the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter, as well as the shelter in Pflugerville, and is working to contact veterinarians in the area for awareness.

The shelter vaccinates all dogs for the following upon intake:

  • Canine Distemper Virus
  • Canine Adenovirus Type 1
  • Canine Adenovirus Type 2
  • Canine Parainfluenza Virus
  • Canine Parvovirus
  • Canine Parvovirus Type 2C
  • Bordetella

Puppies receive additional boosters every two weeks through five months of age.

“Currently, the affected dogs are showing very mild symptoms,” Haughey said. “We are optimistic that our response and protocols will mitigate the spread, and the dogs will recover.”

About distemper

Distemper is a virus that primarily affects unvaccinated dogs. The virus can impact all systems in the body, but typically starts with upper respiratory symptoms and may progress to neurological symptoms if left untreated. The virus is spread through mucous, respiratory secretions, saliva, and urine. Fortunately, it does not live on surfaces for very long and is susceptible to many disinfectants.

Additional information about distemper can be found here.

More information from Cornell University can be found here.

Can humans or cats get canine distemper?

No, canine distemper cannot be passed to humans or cats. However, ferrets and some wildlife can contract it.

Is my dog at risk for distemper?

Young or unvaccinated dogs are most susceptible. The distemper vaccine is a core vaccination for dogs and is very effective at preventing infection. The best thing to do is consult with your veterinarian.

What are the signs of distemper?
  • Fever
  • Eye discharge
  • Nose discharge
  • Coughing
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lack of appetite
  • Thickening or crusting of the nose or paw pads
  • More severe cases will have neurologic signs, including
    • Stumbling or uncoordinated gait
    • Muscle twitches (especially in the face)
    • Seizures
    • Paralysis
Can you test for distemper?

Yes, testing is available for distemper.

What do I do if I think my dog has distemper?

Contact your veterinarian immediately. A PCR test is available to diagnose distemper.

If my dog is showing symptoms of distemper, can I take him to the dog park?

No. Any dog exhibiting symptoms of any illness should be kept away from public places until cleared by a veterinarian.

How does distemper spread?

Dogs are most commonly infected when exposed to air containing droplets of the virus – usually when a nearby infected dog coughs, sneezes, or barks. It can also be transmitted through direct contact with infected dogs or other bodily fluids, such as saliva, urine, or feces.

Is there a cure for distemper?

No, there is no specific cure for distemper. The goal of treatment is to manage symptoms and prevent secondary infections.

What if I have two dogs and one gets distemper?

Infected dogs must be isolated from other dogs to prevent further spread of the virus. Sanitation practices should include good hygiene and thorough cleaning. Caretakers should wear disposable PPE, including gowns, gloves, and booties, when interacting with infected dogs or cleaning their space.

Does anything kill the distemper virus in the environment?

Yes, most household disinfectants, including bleach, easily kill the virus.

What does the Shelter do if a dog tests positive for distemper?

The type of test the Animal Shelter is using shows low positivity or high positivity. All low-positivity dogs will be isolated and symptomatically treated. Currently, because of the first positive test, even presumed positive dogs are started on the two medication regimens suggested by our consulting veterinarian and are being isolated.

Unfortunately, high-positivity dogs need to be euthanized. At this time, no dogs at the Georgetown Animal Shelter have high positivity.

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